Salmon Steak via http://www.cuisinetechnology.com

THE BITE: I got some flack for last week’s Bite. People were asking why there wasn’t a dish reviewed from one of Sheepshead Bay’s many fine restaurants. I was quizzed, “What was this odd request for bread?” One person very pointedly asked me, “Aren’t you the food guy? You should know where to find sliced bread in the neighborhood, not ask such dumb questions from the readers.”

Okay – you caught me. I had no dish to review last week. I was down with a bad case of food poisoning. No, it didn’t come from one of the fine restaurants or food carts of the bay. It came from one of the markets that sell fresh fish. I can’t tell you which one, as I didn’t make the purchase.

My daughter, a college sophomore, has been on a health kick since she came home on summer break. She’s taken over a lot of the cooking duties as she wants to create “healthy” dishes as opposed to the “crap” I usually cook – her words, not mine. So, she’s been cooking a great deal of skinless chicken breasts. While skinless chicken breasts may be healthy, they’re also boring as hell. So last week I insisted that we shake things up a bit and cook some fish for dinner. They brought home three thick salmon steaks. My mistake.

While my daughter has taken on much of the cooking, she still doesn’t know everything as I was called to evaluate if the fish was cooked. I looked down on the George Foreman Grill, and asked, “What type of fish is that? I’ve never seen salmon that color before.” I was assured it was indeed salmon, but I still had my doubts.

“That smells really fishy,” I said. “I’m not sure that fish is good.”

My wife chimed in with “Salmon always smells fishy when it cooks. It’s fine.”

I had my doubts, but I acquiesced to the collective wisdom of the ladies of the house. But, even though it appeared done, I did suggest that they cook the fish another five minutes.

When dinner was served, we each took one salmon steak. I placed mine on my plate and smelled it. It still smelled fishy, but the overwhelming stench was gone. I squirted lemon juice on the fish and took a bite. It was a bit overcooked, which was part of my plan. If this fish was bad, I wanted to make sure that all possible germs, bacteria and parasites were annihilated by the heat. I took a bite. It tasted fine, my wife and daughter assured me it was indeed fine and I proceeded to eat about half the salmon steak.

About an hour later that fish revisited me. It made multiple appearances that night and continued to plague me for eight days. It’s been a horrible experience.

Do yourself a favor, never look up an illness on the internet. I knew bad fish could cause gastrointestinal issues, but I didn’t know that it could kill you. One page suggested that if I started having headaches or muscle spams I should seek immediate treatment as this was signs of a life threatening condition (Whatever happened to “potentially” life threatening?). It was not reassuring.

So, as my daughter accused me of “making myself sick,” as she and my wife escaped unscathed, I suffered through one of the best quick weight loss diets on the planet.

But, all is not lost! I will gladly suffer if I can be of service to the readers of Sheepshead Bites. Here’s a quick guide on how to choose fresh, unspoiled seafood from About.com:

Whole Fish

  • Look for bright, clear eyes. The eyes are the window to a truly fresh fish, for they fade quickly into gray dullness. Dull-eyed fish may be safe to eat, but they are past their prime.
  • Next, look at the fish. Does it shine? Does it look metallic and clean? Or has it dulled or has discolored patches on it? If so, it is marginal.
  • Smell it. A fresh fish should smell like clean water, or a touch briny or even like cucumbers. Under no circumstances should you buy a nasty smelling fish. Cooking won’t improve it.
  • Look at the gills. They should be a rich red. If the fish is old, they will turn the color of faded brick.

Fish Fillets

  • Look for vibrant flesh. All fish fade as they age. If the fillet still has skin, that skin should look as pristine as the skin on an equally good whole fish – shiny and metallic.
  • Smell it. The smell test is especially important with fillets. They should have no pungent aromas.
  • Is there liquid on the meat? If so, that liquid should be clear, not milky. Milky liquid on a fillet is the first stage of rot.
  • If the fishmonger lets you, press the meat with your finger. It should be resilient enough so your indentation disappears. If your fingerprint remains, move on.

Don’t be afraid of fresh fish folks. If it has been properly handled, it’s some of  the best eating on the planet.

The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, and sometimes if it isn’t, we’ll take a bite.

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  • Old Sheepshead Hand

    Usually your first gut (har har) reaction to the smell of food is your safest bet. The worst case scenario then is that you wasted money. One of the local fishmongers in Sheepshead Bay once sold me some rancid salmon – I took it back, they didn’t argue, and helped me find, inspect, and take a fresh fish. Worth the effort.

    Also I wouldn’t cook salmon on the foreman grill. Unlike red meat, you WANT salmon to retain it’s fat. Salmon fat is GOOD FOR YOU and tastes good. Salmon is best on a real grill or baked/broiled in an oven. Unlike tuna – which tastes terrible when made well-done – you can have salmon rare, medium, or well, and it still tastes fine. A little seasoning, a lot of seasoning, doesn’t matter. Salmon is the perfect animal to eat. Except if you eat too much, you’ll get mercury poisoning. But that’s a LOT.

    And a recommendation to make skinless chicken breasts not boring while still being healthy: cut them thin – maybe even get organic because roided-up chickens aren’t great. cast iron grill – first on the stove top for browning, then go in the oven. season with kosher salt, then go over it with whatever spices you like, but a little heat goes a long way.

  • ShadowLock

    Great article.!

  • http://openid.aol.com/bugw24 Bugg

    Would strongly suggest you shop at the AVe. U Fish Market. The Celona family has been in business forever for good reason. They also sell wholesale to many local restaurants. I have never gotten anything but fresh fish, they will butcher or filet fish any way you like, and  will give you tips how best to cook anything they sell. 

    • http://kibblesbits.wordpress.com/ Ann

      I remember that place from when  Iwas a kid in the 70s. Nicest people EVER.

  • not afraid of fresh fish

    if you walk into a fish store and it smells like amonia, walk out 

    • Barkingspider07

      I bought “fresh fish” from Silver Star once, and only once.  I got it home, it didn’t smell like amonia, but when I cooked and tasted it, it tasted like what nail polish remover smells like. I have not since, nor will I ever buy fish from Silver Star ever again.  Seriously, it wasn’t pleasant – I had the same experience at Maria’s restaurant, the waiter told me essentially, that I was a liar.  I told him to taste it, which he refused to do, I demanded that my dinner be taken off the bill, we left and have not been back since.